Mark Your Calendars

This past November, I revisited my artistic roots–retail sales.

Before I was a struggling freelance artist and cartoonist, I was a struggling clerk. I worked at luggage stores, clothing stores, bookstores. Last year, to supplement my holiday income–and provide the usual holiday fare, such as food and utilities–I took a job at the mall as a clerk in a calendar kiosk.

There were hundreds of calendars. Dozens of publishers. Fine art. Decorative art. Cartoons. Desk calendars for Those Who Do Too Much and Those Who Do Too Little. Though the last title is my own invention, I’d buy it. I often run with all of the vigor of a solar-powered car on an overcast day. I’ll buy art-market books and magazines as if they were maps for a long trip only to remain stalled in the driveway waiting for the clouds to clear.

The sun arrived for the first time 10 years ago with my first cartoon sale. Charged with jubilation–and propelled by the pressure of working as a clerk–I was boosted into motion. I couldn’t imagine myself standing in place, selling the work of others. It was time to get moving and sell my work. So I quit the bookstore.

Years later, that epiphany dimmed. Along with the good days, there were bad days, and occasionally bad months, and I’d forget that my lot as a working artist could be far worse. But after my first day in the kiosk, my recollection returned like the spark of a jump start. I shouldn’t be selling calendars, I realized, I should be selling calendar ideas.

So once again I’ve gathered my market books and begun charting a new journey. There’s no guarantee that I’ll reach my intended destination; hard work likes to veer in unexpected directions. But I’m fairly certain that few contracts are offered to clerks as they stuff shopping bags with calendars. So if you’ve felt that your life is out of pace with your dreams, trust that feeling. Put the pedal to the metal, the brush to the paper, the envelope in the mail.

My career selling calendars ended when the kiosk was dismantled in early January. But with hard work–and luck–when the kiosk returns next year, I’ll celebrate the occasion by appearing on the rack, not behind the register.

Mark Heath is a Maine-based artist, illustrator and writer.

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